Department History

Years 1835 - 1889
Fire Department Logo

Researched, Written & Updated By:
Gerald Landry, Eugene Prochniak, Stanley Leja, Normand Bacon, Emile Faubert, Roger Martin, Ralph St. Germain, Kenneth Roberts, Sherman Mann, Alfred Falcioni, Bernard Kogut, Charles O'Rourke, Russell Rielly, Normand Dextraze, and Rose Zariczny.

In 1835, the village of Woonsocket had the "Great Fire" at Canal Square. It swept away, unhampered, the post office and several mills, stirring the populace into serious thoughts of future fire protection. An organized Fire Department and Hook and Ladder company might have saved much property. Steps were taken to incorporate a fire department. At the June session of the General Assembly, an Act was passed to incorporate a fire department. A Charter was granted and on September 29, 1836 a meeting of the citizens was called at Whitcomb's Hotel. This meeting has since gone down in the annals of fire department history. The Charter was accepted, bylaws adopted and officers appointed. With Smith Arnold as chairman and Peter J. Cooke as secretary, the Charter was augmented and the following officers elected to protect the Village of Woonsocket against further conflagrations. Trustees of the organization were Lyman A. Cook and William Holden. Also named was Helvill Knapu, Fire Warden; Smith Arnold, First Warden; Willis Cook, Second Warden; and Justin D. Arnold, Third Warden. Assessors (whose duties were to levy the tax for fire protection) were George C. Ballou, Peter Cook and Edward Harris. Aaron White, Jr. was collector with Pardon Sayles as Guardian of the Gold". With this the Fire Corporation of the Village of Woonsocket was formed.

On November 9, 1839, a Hook and Ladder Company was organized with Captain William Shackleford, Vice Captain Whipple Metcalf, clerk Bethuel Slocomb and Treasurer William Metcalf. Application was made for a house and carriage for the use of the Hook and Ladder Company. It was voted to appoint a committee to erect a building and secure a carriage. Dexter Ballou, Jarvis Cook and Whipple Hetcalf were on the committee. On December 2, 1839, the Fire Corporation voted that the committee appointed in November had failed to provide the building and elected a new committee: Willis Cook and J.A. Oiney.

Prior to 1844, the Fire Corporation held its meetings at Whitcomb's Hotel and Richard's Hotel. Richard's Hotel was also called Central Hotel, owned by Lysander Elliot, and stood where the R.I. Hospital Trust Building is today.

The Village of Woonsocket was then divided into 5 districts with a mill in each district which used its own force pumps and stored fire hose within. The districts were 1) Woonsocket Furnace Company, 2) Justin Ballou Mill, 3) Clinton Mill, 4) Smith Arnold Mill, and 5) Woonsocket Manufacturing Company.

There must have been a great deal of discussion as to the best location to build an Engine House. The records mention High Street as a desirable place, but there is reason to believe that the Engine House was first built at or near the old No. I Fire Station (Eagle Manufacturing Company). For the first time, records of the Fire Corporation show that in February, 1844, the meeting was held at the Engine House, but do not state where it was located. On November 4, 1848, a committee was appointed to draw up a set of bylaws for the Hook and Ladder Company and adopted November 14, 1848.

On December 14, 1856, it was voted to erect a Hose House at Mechanics corner. However, the first engine purchased by the Corporation was purchased by Lyman A. Cook in 1840 and was placed under the care of members of Pumper No. 1. It was called Hydraulion No. I and later changed to Rescue Hose No. 1.

In 1857, the new building at Mechanics corner used gas lighting for the first time in Woonsocket. Up to 1867, the Hook and Ladder rendered its annual report to the Fire Corporation through Rescue Hose No. 1. They had fifty men in the company as of May 1869. The Charter granted in 1836 was amended around this time and the name of the Corporation was changed from the Fire Corporation of the Village of Woonsocket to the Woonsocket Fire Corp. The Village was also granted a Charter creating the Town of Woonsocket, separating it from the Town of Cumberland in 1867.

During this time, the mill corporations were very active and supplied apparatus of their own. This equipment was placed at the disposal of the Fire Corporation.

On June 29, 1872, the Corporation purchased its first Steam Fire Engine at a cost of $4,000.00. Built by Jeffers, they called it Jeffers Engine Company No. 1. This Company had previously been organized as the Eagle Hose Company. A few years later another Steam Engine manufactured by Cole Bros. of Pawtucket was purchased by the Social Mfg. Company and was manned by the Corporation as Steam Engine No. 2 or the Social Steamer.

There was also a Hose Company, a Hook and Ladder Company and a Company to man the force pumpers. In 1887, one year before Woonsocket became a city. The Evening Reporter published an article stating that the Corporation was to form a Permanent Fire Department, in the early days, there were two classes of firemen; Permanent and Call men.

In January 1889, the Fire Department moved into its quarters at the Town Hall and Armory on Bernon Street and called it Station No. 1. Woonsocket Hook and Ladder No. I and Monument Hose No. I were placed here. In 1889, George Batchelor was named First Marshal. In the early 1900's. Jay Niel was named First Permanent Chief. The Department now had fifty-eight men and four horses. This was known as a one platoon system.

Around this time, something else began to form in this City. The newly chartered Town of Woonsocket purchased -the Woonsocket Water Works Company for $298,612.62 in April of 1885. The Town of Woonsocket was incorporated as a City in 1888.

In 1886, the Fire Department installed its first electric fire alarm system. A fire tower was also built at Church and Boyden Streets and provided with a large bell. In 1889, the Fire Alarm consisted of fifteen miles of wire, three electric bells, one 15" gong, one indicator, three electromechanical tappers, three direct action tappers, twenty-three public and four private pull boxes. George Worall was the first Fire Alarm Superintendent.

The purchase and extension of the water works made it possible to extend lines for the Fire Department, thus insuring greater fire protection for the citizens of Woonsocket. In 1889, $12,000.00 was provided for maintenance and improvement of water service. There were 349 hydrants throughout Woonsocket that year.

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